My dream business in France – Jules’ journey

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My dream business in France – Jules’ journey

In my early Twenties, I was immersed in family life with four sons aged under 4 years old… I dreamed of an escape to a peaceful, comfortable retreat, where I could stay in my pjs all day and drink copious amounts of tea. I could only find hotels – unsuitable, B&Bs – too restrictive with their timetables or Retreats – far too expensive. I decided that when I was able I would create a guest house for primarily women where they could relax, restore and rejuvenate.

In 2013 my plans came to fruition after working with my Business Coach Nami Haghighi. With his help and support I manage to overcome the challenges I had in getting started, like timing and startup capital and before I knew it I was in France looking for suitable properties. I found a fabulous place in the middle of a small town in South West France and a kind friend to back me financially. Limoux is a smallish town with a central Square surrounded by cafés and restaurants, on a good rail link and with the river Aude running through it. Perfect! I had decided (or my finances had decided for me) to rent rather than buy a property. I had a carefully detailed business plan with expenses for two years and then further estimated projections for the next three. I researched web designers carefully as this was effectively my “shop window”, and I was recommended, by a fellow networker, a woman who had her own business. I spent a decent percentage of my budget on the website and it was always complimented and well received. I bought decent bedding and luxurious towels, and lots and lots of English Tea, handed in my notice and said my goodbyes to family and friends and headed off to the South of France in a second hand Citroen filled to the brim.

I advertised in The Lady magazine, Airbnb (and in the second year and the bookings started coming in almost immediately. I love social media so took advantage of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. One of the most important things I learned was to nurture the business as if it were living. I constantly advertised and talked about La Maison Blanche, I networked in the UK and in France where I joined in local French and ex pat functions. I was passionate about my project and really believed it had a place.


My guests were, without fail, fabulous. My initial concept of “Women Only” had to become a little more flexible but this is an important lesson, ideas are organic and need to be constantly reviewed and changed. So I welcomed couples and groups of friends too. Although if I did have single women travellers booked in, the whole place remained like that to give the girls the space and peace they needed. I had older ladies arrive who had never travelled alone before but because of bereavement or divorce were in an unimagined position but they left me with a confidence and renewed vigour that pulled at my heart strings. I had a group of female NHS practitioners who had great plans for wild nights out, but they barely budged from the sofas, talking and sharing their stories. I cooked for them and discreetly left them to it. I had guests who were attending local weddings, dressing up and parading about in their finery, and then having a quiet post wedding day, nursing headaches helped with bacon & egg baguettes and post-mortems on late night behaviour. Without fail my guests became friends and my Trip Advisor ratings were excellent. I quite quickly became the 5th best rated hotel out of 15 well established businesses.

So why have I given it up? The truth is I missed my friends and family too much. I had completely underestimated in all my detailed planning how homesick I would be. I know that sounds childish but it’s the raw truth. But I don’t for one second regret my adventure. I have had the best two years and met incredible people, and offered a service in which I still believe passionately believe. If I could start the whole idea up again in the UK I would but as part of a team. I’m a big believer in team play and I truly think the basic idea of having a “chill out house” for girls works as a concept, whether it works for worn out mothers I’m not sure. These angels put themselves last generally, and can’t find the money in the household budget when there are numerous other expenses and this may always be the case. It’s a shame because a few days away with a bit of cosseting does everyone good.


But I’m returning to the UK with a spring in my step. I had a concept and made it work, and it was successful. I’ll use the numerous skills gained on my next project. I’ve learned the inestimable value of networking and how great customer service and a ready smile (and occasional hug) makes people feel valued and cherished. Isn’t that what we all want? I would also recommend working with an experienced Coach to help you realise your dream, it can help accelerate the process and give you the confidence to take action and move forward faster and find solutions to what may be holding you back.
I wish you all well with your businesses, put your customers first, always. And if you can’t, it’s time for a new path. Working with Nami helped me with my thought processes, he is a calm, thoughtful and learned man which allowed me to voice my thoughts without fear of sounding unprofessional or unrealistic in my dreams. His business advice is given in a such a way that you feel you can achieve reaching the moon…. And you can!



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Networking -10 Easy ways to better Business Networking

Here is how to get better results from Networking: a step by step guide.

Business networking events are one of the best ways of promoting your business and meeting new clients and partners. After all, there’s nothing like getting the chance to talk about your product or service to someone in person and then getting an enquiry from them. But networking is a skill and if you don’t practice it, you may come away from the event with just a handful of new business cards rather than some new potential customers.

Like everything in the world of business, successful networking requires a well-defined strategy and some planning ahead. And the good news is that this is easy to do if you take a clearly structured approach. If you follow the tips below you will find that attending networking events can become one of your most profitable ways of promoting your business.

Before the networking event

Set a goal – decide what you want to get from the event. For example, your objective may be to meet 3 new potential customers. By thinking through what you want to get out of the networking experience you’ll have a clearer idea of who you need to meet to achieve this goal.

Know who to meet – you can see the list of attendees for most networking events in advance. Look through the list and earmark the 3 people who best fit your customer profile. Connect with them first.

Top tip: take a moment to look at their profile and find out a bit about them (e.g. where they’re from, their role in the company, where the company is based etc.) so you can start the conversation easily.

Perfect that presentation – practise your 3-minute elevator speech until you’re pitch perfect and can deliver it smoothly.

At the networking event

Make the right entrance – first, introduce yourself to the networking host. This is not only polite but also helpful because your host can introduce or direct you to your 3 targets or other people of interest to your business.

Listen hard – everyone likes talking and they like it even more when someone’s listening. So when you meet your potential customer start by asking questions and letting them do the talking while you listen and take it all in.

Top tip: A good ratio to aim for is 80% listening/20% talking. And while you’re listening, take a note of problems or issues they mention so you can explain how your business can solve this for them.

Deliver the goods – this is where your pitch-perfect elevator speech comes in. As soon as they ask “and what do you do?”, make your presentation. Adapt it slightly or add a bit at the end to focus on how your business can solve any of the problems they’ve just mentioned.

Top tip: Have a call of action ready (think of it as the button at the end of an eshot) and suggest it. Keep it non-pushy but make it clear that you’re willing to help them solve the problem. Suggest meeting for a coffee or drink to discuss things further.

Build the trust – remember your 3 target customers are potential clients only not confirmed buyers. Use the occasion to start a relationship to then lead to an enquiry and possibly a sale. Business is all about trust and confidence, and few customers will spend money with you unless you’ve built up a solid relationship first.

Stay in control – although they’ve done most of the talking, you’re in control and taking the initiative. Ask them directly if your product or service is of interest to them so you can explain it in more detail. Ask for their business card or make a note of their contact details so you’re in charge of the follow-up.

Top tip: after you’ve finished speaking to someone and before you move to the next, jot down a few important notes about them on a small Post-it and stick to their business card.

After the networking event

Act quickly – follow up with an email or call soon after the event. Within 24 hours if you can. Remind them of your conversation (this is where those Post-it notes come in handy!) and your idea of a meeting. If appropriate, suggest a time and place.

Sign up for more – keep going to business networking events and return to the ones organised by the same host or association. This will allow you to forge stronger relationships and build on that all-important trust and confidence. Familiar networkers tend to get more enquiries and orders, and referrals from other networkers than one-off visitors.

Nami Haghighi

Your Business

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6 time saving tips

Do you find that you are always working yet never seem to have enough time to do it all? Here are 6 time saving tips to help you get the most out of your day and ultimately increase productivity.

1. Early bird or night owl
Are you at your best first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. Maybe you are most productive in the evening when there is no one about and the phones stop ringing.

Once you know when that is, use that time of the day, when your powers of concentration are at their highest and tackle the jobs which demand your greatest creativeness, imagination and concentration. This will save you time, because you won’t be trying to deal with things that you’re not really mentally alert enough to undertake and you will achieve much more.

2. Tame your mail
If you’re anything like I used to be, you’ll be checking your emails, messages and posts throughout the working day or responding to email as they land in your inbox.

STOP! Try and set aside 30 minutes to an hour at the start and end of your day to answer emails and phone messages (unless the messages are urgent). The same goes for your social media posts. Work on developing a more cost-effective attitude with regard to your time and how you spend it. Time is money after all.

3. When to say No!
We would all like to help out where we can, however try not to spread yourself too thin. By taking on too many things, you’re in danger of completing none of them satisfactorily and performing fewer tasks successfully is better than lots of second-rate and rush results.

If you are able to assign some of your tasks to someone else – do so, getting a virtual PA is easy, affordable and can help you focus on the work that only you can do. An experienced PA can often take fraction of the time you take to type letters and reports and you only pay hourly.

4. Eliminate time wasters
Keeping a time sheet can highlight where your time is spent. Most professional offices use detail timesheets to record every 10 or 15 minute time slot.

The information is then used to invoice clients and also serves to control staff time too. You can use this tool to asses how much time is spent by you in each area of your business and make changes where needed. Measuring creates awareness that can lead to change needed. You will be surprised how much time is wasted on 5 minute phone calls that become 45 minute chats.

5. The one touch principle
Aim to handle mail and email just once and certainly no more than twice. Try getting in the habit of dealing with mail as soon as you’ve read it. If you don’t have to keep it, put it in the bin straight away. If action is necessary or it can be dealt with in under 3 minutes deal with it. If it needs to be left to a later date – file it at once with a date to clear the matter. Keep your work space as free from clutter and unresolved issues as you can. Studies have shown that clutter can impact your effectiveness at work.

6. Getting technology working for you
Using some of the tools and gadgets on your computer can help you work more effectively. I recently started using sticky notes for to do lists and reminders etc. and downloaded a free version and sound it to be quite useful. It is very flexible and you can set its priority, change the colour, set an alarm, transparency, and even options to print. Easy to edit, cross off and change fonts and sizes. Now my sticky note alarm sounds and it pops up to remind me to make that call or post this blog.

Though simple ideas they have been tried and tested by some of my clients and their positive feed back has encouraged me to share these. So why not put one of these ideas to test each week and see if you can save time in your business? Let me know how you get on.

Nami Haghighi

Your Business

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A Franchisee’s tale

So, may be you are thinking about becoming a franchisee but are not too sure what to look for. Is it the right move for you and how can you make sure you choose the right one for you?

There are no shortages of Franchise possibilities out there and as a business model it has many advantages but it also comes with various downsides that should not be ignored.

Recently a client contacted me about a Franchise he was about to buy into in the north of England and wanted my input. He had been searching for the right Franchise to suit his particular plan and budget for about 2 years at this stage and was keen to sign the Franchise agreement and get started. He updated me with all his findings and shared the agreement and projections supplied by the Franchisor. It was a café business with a popular range of cakes as their key product. On the surface it all looked like a credible business with several Franchises already in place. He had met the Master Franchisor and liked them and their outfit. P was smart enough to know he was too close to the deal and just couldn’t find the downside. He had enough savings to meet the reasonable start up costs and fees and the projections the Franchisor had provided seemed reasonable, showing healthy profits within the first year.

We started to examine the details and I could hear the excitement in his voice, describing how he would expand to 3 units within 2 years and how his cafés would be even better and introducing home delivery could boost sales…… So Excited and convinced that he was about to put down a deposit to secure his territory. The idea being that his wife would start the first unit and once there was enough profits generated he would be able to finally leave his job and start the next unit and carry on growing the business.

After our call I set to work and within the hour I found two major flaws in the businesses proposal. My client was tied to buying all his main supplies from the Franchisor and some inaccurate assumptions supporting the projections were alarming enough to raise my suspicions.

You see although the initial Franchising fees and the ongoing percentage of the takings were reasonable, there was a less obvious or the hidden profit on every purchase my client made. This just tipped the balance.

But there was more, the sales figures in the projections were inflated and many costs including rent and rates (substantial fixed costs in this case) were underestimated. The new projections I prepared showed that he would have to achieve sales higher than those achieved by any Franchisee in the last 8 years to make a reasonable profit.

By revising the projections I was able to demonstrate the profit share of the Franchisor at every level of turnover and yes you guessed it, it told a very different story. At almost every sales level, the Franchisor earned more than my client, taking a huge slice of the cake (or profits)! It was hidden away in the cost of sales, inflated turnover and underestimated costs. Suddenly we were looking at a different scenario in which my client was taking all the risk, putting in almost all the work and financing every new unit, yet sharing a substantial part of his profits instead of paying a small royalty fee.

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Although at the outset I insisted that my client visited the busiest Franchisees and ask about their experiences, he never found the time or the courage to do so. Don’t get me wrong I don’t judge him as I know this and the numbers fall outside his comfort zone and it’s just easier to ignore. I did enjoy my visit up north however and on a cold sleety day we walked in to the most successful unit and asked to see the owners. He was not available but we hadn’t finished our coffee before he came in and spent over two hours giving us all the insights we needed.  Chatting over complimentary coffee and cake he confirmed that the Franchisors were very supportive and the systems and the brand very helpful but lack of profits had forced them to re-mortgage their home to keep the business going. Eight years on they were only just discovering why the business was not making the profits they wanted and deserved. Sadly they had not looked into the proposal too deeply either and felt that they just had to work harder and longer and somehow make it work. In return for his kindness I offered to help him build his profile on the social media where he felt he needed some help.

I also made the point of meeting the Franchisor and pointing out the flaws in their Franchise business proposal and projections and was glad to get their acknowledgement and apology. They promised that they would update the information they supplied to new applicants and there were many in the pipeline.

My client saved himself at least £100,000 and two or more years of his life and he just could not believe that they already had a dozen Franchise units in place. He was disappointed that it hadn’t worked out but grateful he saw the full facts before it was too late. He drove me back to London and we talked more about his way forward. He will be opening his new independent restaurant early in 2013 and he calls often to keep me posted on his progress.

So if you are considering starting a Franchise business make sure you weigh up all the pros and cons. Get an expert to assess the overall proposal; not just a lawyer to check the agreement or an accountant to verify the numbers.

In Summary a Franchise business opportunity can offer the following pros and cons:


  • A big name behind you helps in many ways
  • Systems than can help you in a new business
  • Ongoing help and support
  • Easier access to finance
  • Help with location and territory
  • Benefits of economies of scale, especially in marketing


  • Initial fee and ongoing percentage of profits (believe me, this will hurts a year or two down the line!)
  • You do things their way not yours, you will have many forms to fill and it may  feel like having a boss again
  • You are tied to the Franchisor in many ways
  • Decisions made by others can affect you
  • They go down, you go down
  • None of the advantages will help you escape hard work

I do want to point out however, that not all Franchises are set up in the same way and there are many great opportunities out there. Many Franchises can, and have made successful businesses for people just like you, but do your research and I wish you all the best.

To your Success.

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Fabulous AIDA on advertising

Whenever I hear any of my clients saying “that doesn’t work” I smile and ask for their evidence. It was no different on Thursday when we were looking at advertising ideas with J who was working on getting more clients locally. Looking over the wording of the advert she had used I could see why she was not getting results. J had described her services in the advert (as you would) but was not aiming at anyone in particular, no interest was generated nor was there an emotional hook; the call to action was not very compelling either.

Given that we are all subjected to thousands of adverts everyday, we tend to switch off if we don’t see its relevance to us within seconds I explained. J was intrigued, she sat back in her seat as I continued sharing: A good way to get a customer to engage with an advertisement is to use AIDA:

A – Attention (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer. The more niched you are (in the advert) the more you will be directly speaking to the reader and attract them.

I – Interest: raise customer interest by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits (instead of focusing on features, as in traditional advertising). Offer something your competition doesn’t; or is not seen to offer.

D – Desire: convince customers that they want and desire your services and that it will satisfy their needs. Connecting with reader’s emotions is very powerful: “sell the sizzle not the steak”

A – Action: lead customers towards taking action and/or purchasing.

I paused and watched as J was digesting the information. She was starting to see the importance learning how to target a market effectively.  I explained that this was a known and trusted advertising and marketing process and I would also add the following steps:

1. Bring your advert right up to date by printing your QR code on the advert so that smart phone users can take action immediately by scanning your code and be visiting your web page or your Facebook page in seconds. (You can get a free code at in seconds, they are the new barcodes you see on posters and printed ads)

2. Ideally have a way of capturing customer’s details by offering an E-book, a free report or a free session when they do visit you online. You can keep in touch if they are not ready to engage right now.

3. Measure responses and try different adverts until you find one that works well (based on results). You can try different ones that speak to different clients (niche and micro niche).

You don’t need to have all the above in place, build up to it one step at a time but it is good to have an overall plan. Be on the lookout for the adverts that grab your attention and notice how they are worded and put together.

J grabbed a pen and quickly redrafted her advert. The result was much more powerful, once she had refined the aim of her campaign to just one section of her audience: it just spoke to you! J’s body language made it quite clear that she was pleased and much clearer as to where she was going with this and the steps she needed to take.

I took a sip of my coffee and we continued chatting over all the other places she could try publishing her ads for free. She was ready to go online too so I mentioned that sites such as Gumtree have produced results for other clients and are worth looking into.

It was time for me to put on my coat and head out into the wet and windy London streets. It was a lot darker and colder now but as I made my way towards the Embankment for my next meeting, I felt a warmth and comfort that reminded me how much I loved and enjoyed the work I do.

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Are you having a good flight?

Yesterday as I was enjoying reading my book on a flight to London for a meeting with a client, I picked up on how confident the pilot sounded when announcing our altitude, speed and how he could tell us where we were and how long before we land. He sounded so as a matter of fact and I started to Imagine being in the cockpit with him, surrounded by dials, gages, lights and switches; wondering how he kept track of all the information he is fed at any given moment and why so many sources of information in the first place?

Then I remember reading somewhere that the pilot has to make constant adjustment to the direction and speed as the aeroplane is actually off course a large percentage of its journey. The weather conditions, wind & turbulences constantly throw the plane off route but using the information he can bring us back on route again and again and of course he has a couple of qualified and experienced people on his team who help him throughout.

It occurred to me that running a business is not so unlike flying a plane. We take off aiming in the general direction of our goal and need to make constant changes to our strategy to satisfy our customers as their needs change, reacting to what the market and competitors are doing to name but a few.

However unlike the pilot most small business owners have not gone through years of training to run a business, nor have they many systems in place to give them accurate timely information. Most of them are alone in the cockpit ignoring parts of the business they don’t like or fully understand, missing so much vital information no wonder they end up off route, with limited fuel trying to keep the business going at all costs, wondering how they got into this situation. It can all get very stressful and the possibility of failure begin to fill their mind.

How different would their experience be if they had some simple systems in place and help on hand to get timely feed back so they can act fast and get back on course, saving time & money and avoiding potential disaster.

The reality is that far too many entrepreneurs take off with only a vague idea as to their destination; chartering territories never encountered before and inevitably loose their sense of direction, usually without enough fuel on board. After all they are just trying to get away from a job they had and taking off in the business plane seems like a good escape plan. Totally unprepared but the sense of adventure & encouragement by a few friends seems to fuel their ego enough to take off.

They are usually intelligent, hardworking people with a great idea so some manage to make it as they learn quickly en route but they are putting themselves, their investment , their health, their family and all the other people on board (staff, customers, suppliers, investors etc.) in danger.

The truth is that it does not have to be that hard, a clear vision, more preparation, putting simple information systems in place and getting affordable expert help that is available can go a long way to help avoid a bumpy ride.

So fasten your seat belt and have a pleasant flight.

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Facebook for your business

“Social media” are the new buzz words in online marketing. Everyone has heard about it, everyone wants to be part of it, but very few people know how to use it to their advantage.

Facebook is undoubtedly the King when it comes to social media. With over 800 million active users and growing rapidly, the marketing possibilities are unlimited.

If Facebook were a country, it would be the World’s 3rd largest. It is just too big to ignore.

Every company should have a Facebook presence.

How to start

There are basically two ways to go about advertising your business within Facebook. From mentioning it and linking to it within your own personal profile, or making a separate account/page for your business. The latter is a better way to start.

The secret within Facebook is to get people to ‘like’ your page or your updates. There are many ways to go about this, aside from the obvious contacting all your friends and acquaintances.

Buying fans

Some companies opt for paid advertising within Facebook, which for larger companies, is a good way forward. Besides the obvious branding, having fans is ideal when using targeted marketing campaigns. Say you want to send to a newsletter to male-only fans, between the ages of 35 – 45 and only ones that are based in the UK – Facebook makes this very straight forward. You can easily segment your fan base.

Someone ‘liking’ your page (or commenting on it) has a ripple effect. When you ‘Like’ (or comment on) something within Facebook this ‘Like’ is automatically visible to your friends.

If you have a picture or video for example that generates a lot of ‘likes’ the exposure can be massive and relatively instantaneous.

Visibility within Facebook

As with any form of marketing, visibility is the key. Luckily Facebook is far more transparent than search engines.

Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank to determine what makes it into their ‘Top news’ section.

Recently they have made several changes to this and there are now manual settings that people can change to alter what appears and what doesn’t.

But in essence, these are the five main points to bear in mind if running a Facebook commercial page

1. Ask questions. Questions generate feedback and likes. This pushes the news higher up in the algorithm. Research found that when a brand utilizes keywords such as “where,” “when,” “would” and “should,” the objects will see a higher number of engagements from fans. The word “would” drives the highest spike in ‘Likes’ due to fans using ‘like’ as a way to vote “yes” on the question rather than posting “yes” to a Wall.

2. Facebook assigns a higher weight value to photos than to other objects (including videos and links). This weight factor increases the Edgerank. Pictures seem to be given a preferential treatment in Facebook. If you can, post pictures, they tend to get greater exposure.

3. Research conducted found that fans are more likely to engage with current events.

4. A major component of an object’s Edgerank is timing and relevancy, therefore posts that contain content relating to upcoming events or short-term campaigns will have greater success in the News Feed.

5. Beware, however if you post too often, Facebook might take that under consideration and block your updates to work against you. People may also quickly get sick of too many updates coming from you. Post regularly and consistently.

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